Abuse, understaffing hampering contact tracing in Saskatchewan: nurses’ union

Contact tracing is behind in Saskatchewan amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses’ (SUN) — which said abuse, ever-changing procedures and understaffing are part of the reason.

The union said staff are trying to keep up with the growing demand of contact tracing, but said some members of the public aren’t making it easy.

“When they actually get ahold of people they don’t want to share their information, they don’t want to talk about their contacts and there’s even times when there is some pretty serious verbal abuse,” said union president Tracy Zambory.

Read more: Nearly 100 Saskatoon jail inmates and staff diagnosed with COVID-19

At a press conference Thursday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said it estimates that for every positive case, that person has an average of 7.7 contacts.

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The union estimates that number is closer to 25.

Regardless of the number of contacts, both organizations said any contacts can be time consuming. SUN estimates one call to one potential contact can take over 20 minutes, and longer if the person is hostile.

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The SHA said as cases go up, contact tracing will only get busier.

Read more: Saskatchewan ICUs, testing capacity see worrying strain: unions

“If we continue to average 200 cases per day, that average will result in just over 32,000 hours of work over two weeks,” said Derek Miller at Thursday’s press conference.

“That’s an average of just under 2,300 hours of work per day just on contact tracing.”

SUN said another issue is how staff are directed to contact trace. It said procedures are constantly changing.

“They have to learn something new every time they show up to work,” Zambory said.

“Rather than being able to pick up that phone and get right at it, they now have to figure out this new process or this new rule or this new way of doing the job.”

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The union said it wants to see more staff hired to address contact tracing, and for the SHA to formally put out job applications.

On Thursday, Miller said over 80 nursing students, along with staff from the Public Service Commission and other organizations, had been brought in to help address demand.

“Every single positive case creates hours and hours of work for our team,” Miller said.

“If people don’t limit their contacts, then the numbers will continue to increase and place significant strains on our capacity.”

Read more: 197 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death reported in Saskatchewan

The union said it also wants the province to take “decisive action” to address “hotspots” such as bingo halls and nightclubs.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

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